Al Shabaab spiritual head Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and two other leaders may have been killed after their camp in Afgoye was bombed by suspected US drones.
The camp was attacked at around 10pm on Sunday night when new al Shabaab recruits were being paraded in readiness for the war against the Kenya Defence Forces and the Somalia Transitional Federal Government forces, according to online and journalist sources. “No one can tell you for sure whether they (the leaders) were there or not. However the camp came under fire. The camp is a school in a place called Latana Buro. This is where al Shabaab train and some were housed,” a journalist in Mogadishu told the Star.
Aweys was the head of the Union of Islamic Courts that was removed from power by Ethiopia five years ago. The former army colonel is on American list of top terrorists. Aweys used to head al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, an Islamist militant group accused of having links with al-Qaeda in the 1990s. Aweys has always denied links with terror groups.
Also believed to be in the strategy meeting when the bombing occurred was al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Mohamud Rage alias Ali Dheere; the operational leader of al Shabaab, Ahmed Godane; and the US citizen Omar Hammami also known as al Amriki.
However Rage was reported to have been killed in a Kenyan Air Force bombing raid in Jilib three weeks ago. According to reports, two explosions were heard within a minute of each other at about 10 pm local time Sunday. Residents of Hawo-Tako village close to the al Shabaab camp reported seeing a blaze and smoke. The area doubles as a checkpoint for the insurgent group to collect tax from travellers.
Online news outlet “Somalia Report” quoted the residents saying they had been denied access to the area on Sunday by heavily armed al Shabaab fighters. “I have never heard such an explosion in my life. It didn’t explode in the town but I think it exploded near al Shabaab training camps,” Reuters quoted Afgoye resident Mohamud Abdi Ali as saying. “After some seconds, we heard a big explosion that shook all houses. It either exploded inside Afgoye or nearby,” Mogadishu resident Ashao Ahmed said.
Afgoye is 30 km south-west of Mogadishu. It is among 10 towns that Kenyan military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir warned last week would come under attack because they have al Shabaab training camps with weapons smuggled in from Eritrea. Chirchir confirmed the bombing of Afgoye but said the KDF were not behind the attack that destroyed several vehicles and buildings in the training camp.
Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have backed the mission in Somalia and pledged to help Kenya secure its borders. Kenya and Israel yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding on homeland security with Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The Israeli leaders in Jerusalem assured Raila and Internal Security minister George Saitoti that Kenya is a critical ally whose stability means a lot to Israel and Africa. Netanyahu accepted an invitation to visit Kenya in 2012 and promised to help build “a coalition against fundamentalism” with regional states including Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Tanzania.
President Peres pledged to give Kenya all the support it needs to ensure security within its borders. “Kenya has stood on the side of Israel at its hour of need. Consistently, Kenya has shown a very positive attitude towards Israel and Israel is ready to help,” Peres said. “Kenya’s enemies are Israel’s enemies so we should be able to help. We have similar forces planning to bring us down. I see it as an opportunity to strengthen our ties,” Netanyahu said.
He said that threat called for more advanced and improved security measures, including more surveillance and capacity of Kenya Police to preempt criminals instead of pursuing them after the act. Raila asked Israel to help the Kenya Police build the capacity to detect militants, know what kind of arms they have and preempt and destroy the networks that recruit youths to commit atrocities.
He said the internal security threats and piracy in the Indian Ocean posed a big threat to Kenya’s economy. He appealed for vehicles for border patrol and equipment for sea surveillance. “We need to be able to convincingly ensure homeland security. That will ensure tourists keep coming. Our people can go on with their lives as they have always and we don’t lose people who have no reason to die,” Raila said. Raila, Saitoti and Water minister Charity Ngilu witnessed the signing of the MoU on internal security cooperation.